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Stumbling on minerals, fossils part of the excitement

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POSTED May 6, 2010 1:52 a.m.
One of the fringe benefits of spending a lot of time afield in search of fish or game is all of the other great natural wonders you find along the way.

You often get great scenery, with magnificent wildflowers in the foreground and towering peaks under blue skies in the background.

Pretty cool stuff.

Another fringe benefit is often literally under your feet. If you pay attention to what’s underneath you, it will not only avoid a nasty fall, or a possible snakebite, you might just find mineral treasures as well. Once while fishing a high-Sierra stream, I noticed an interesting striped rock glistening in a couple inches of water.

Picking up the rock for a closer look, I discovered it was petrified wood that had been nicely polished by the stream. As years went by, I almost always found more chunks of petrified wood right in that same stretch of stream,

I have been fascinated by fossils and minerals since childhood when my buddies and I would explore the canyons of the coastal hills on our bikes. The ghost towns of Carnegie and Tesla were riddled with mine tunnels and their mine dumps as well.

We regularly found seashell fossils, and petrified wood fascinating minerals of all sorts. I recall dragging a yellowish rock sample back to the high school lab for testing.

Sure enough, the school Geiger counter went berzerk; I had found pitchblende, the ore that contains uranium.  Periodically, we would stumble across a rock with shiny, silvery, crystals in it, a mineral known as galena, or lead crystals.

Once while wandering down a Sierra mountain side on the way to the stream I came across a rock with shiny, silvery-looking metallic crystals and at first glance thought I’d found another galena specimen. Upon closer examination, however, I discovered the metallic crystals were much harder than the soft lead crystals. What the heck was this stuff?

After considerable research & testing it turned out to be Molybdenum, commonly called simply “Moly” — a rare metal that is used to harden high quality stainless steel.

I guess if the economy really gets bad, I can always stake a mining claim and mine Moly to make a living. Actually, I don’t think I could bring myself to tear up that beautiful mountainside just to get rich. The secret of that Moly deposit is safe with me.

When you are out exploring the outdoors, keep your eyes open, it could pay off in a big way. The other night on the news, I saw where a local prospector found a nine pound gold nugget!

At today’s gold prices that’s about $175,000 dollars. That would help out the old budget considerably. Even if you don’t strike it rich financially, exploring the wonders beneath you feet as well as the beautiful streams and vistas will add another reason for you to be outdoor exploring this wonderful world of ours.
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